Is HGNS the Next Frontier of CPAP Therapy?

Summary: CPAP therapy is an excellent way of controlling sleep apnea, but different patients require different solutions. New research has found another possible solution called hypoglossal nerve stimulation. Could this be the next frontier in sleep technology?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is common. According to Alberta Health Services, it is estimated to affect about 10 per cent of Albertans (about 400,000 people). Sleep apnea is harmful in itself, but it is also harmful because the effects of poor sleep can make it more difficult to manage other chronic health conditions. Being diagnosed and treated for OSA is a necessary step in recovery. Studies suggest there might be a new treatment coming from a device called a hypoglossal nerve stimulator (HGNS).

What Makes HGNS Different?

The hypoglossal nerve is the cranial nerve that controls the muscles responsible for the movement of the tongue and helps with voluntary and involuntary functions like swallowing and blocking or allowing airflow. Muscle tone can become weak in the hypoglossal nerve just as it can in other muscles in the human body, and it may need some activation from time to time. The HGNS stimulator is sometimes referred to as a pacemaker for the tongue, as it prevents those muscles from relaxing too much during sleep.

HGNS studies and tests are looking positive so far. The device seems to work to a double advantage as it can monitor the patient’s sleep patterns and stimulate the hypoglossal nerve as needed, without the sleeper waking up. The other benefits of the device suggest that it works for a broad range of sleep apnea sufferers across the spectrum of severity.

HGNS is an implantable electrical stimulation device, like a pacemaker, and so requires surgery. It is also quite a bit more expensive than a CPAP mask, and the effects of long-term use of the device are not yet known.

Why Look for a New Way?
CPAP therapy masks are a very effective method of treating sleep apnea. They are simple to use, but one concern expressed by many medical professionals and sleep researchers is that they can’t work if they are not being used. There are many cases when CPAP devices are not being used, as they are perceived as being uncomfortable, unsexy, noisy, or cumbersome to wear or to pack when travelling. Patient error, and lax behaviour, is a concern. For some, a device like HGNS may be a viable option.

Sleep Well
Lack of sleep is one of the most debilitating health issues, and sleep apnea is one of the most common causes. Before diagnosis, people are often unaware that they have OSA, and that it can lead to greater health risks such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, depression, and obesity. The excessive tiredness can also be a factor in workplace and motor vehicle accidents.

If you think there might be a reason why you are tired during the day or waking with a dry mouth or a headache, see a sleep specialist at CPAP Solutions Inc. about the treatments available.

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